Turkey’s changing role in NATO

A two-day NATO Summit in Chicago was concluded May 21 with the adoption of a new “Smart Defense” strategy, just as it had been announced in advance.

The 28 members agreed to coordinate use of their military resources under dire circumstances of global economic difficulties to overcome global threats together.

In an environment where the United States is in the process of shifting its focus from the Atlantic-Europe zone to the Pacific-Asia zone, the new NATO strategy fits into American needs to entrust interests in the Atlantic-European zone to their allies there by providing them new ways, means and tools to do that. And lessening the burden on its shoulders is one of the reasons behind all that smart defense resource sharing thing.

The missile shield is an important part of that strategy. The shield project, which NATO said yesterday was officially in active use, consists of five units: The command center in Ramstein, Germany, the intercepting missiles on board the U.S. missile ships off the Spanish coasts, land-based missile batteries in Poland and Romania, as well as an early warning radar site in Kürecik, Turkey. A White House Fact Sheet yesterday revealed that only the Kürecik radar, an AN/TPY-2 type one (which has been effectively in use since January) has been transferred by U.S. President Barack Obama from U.S. to NATO operational control; the others will remain U.S. sites.

There is a detail here. Israel has the same radar on its soil, and if that radar would fully satisfy the U.S.’ needs, it would be hard to find any reason why Washington would ask Ankara to hear their needs and demands in return. NATO control, of course, gives a different hand to Turkey vis-à-vis its relations with northern neighbor Russia and eastern neighbor Iran; both are not very happy because of the presence of the radar as they feel like the targets.

Turkey comes into this picture in a different way. When the U.S. focus was on the Atlantic-Europe zone, Turkey was on the eastern fringe bordering Russia and the energy basins of the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea; now in the Pacific-Asia focus, Turkey remains in the picture at the western fringe and with the capabilities to have an influence on the Islamic political geography. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was in Pakistan yesterday to discuss their future role in Afghanistan on behalf of the Western alliance while the Western leaders were discussing the same issue in Chicago some ten thousand miles away.

These qualities bring an upgraded role to Turkey in the NATO system as well and are not limited to a new (Land Forces in İzmir) command and more officers. It is a political one and in order to enhance it, the U.S. and major European allies are seeking two improvements in two main fields: Upgraded democratic standards which are expected to come with the new constitution that is being prepared and better relations with the neighborhood – that usually means Israel, Cyprus and Armenia nowadays. If the new coalition in Israel comes closer to an apology over the killing of nine Turks in the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla tragedy, that could be a good start for the process.

HDN